Exposing older adults to self-driving vehicle technology improved their perceptions about its safety, trust and usefulness, according to a new study. The researchers said the findings could benefit healthcare professionals seeking alternative transportation options for those who no longer drive.
The research, from the University of Florida and University of Alabama at Birmingham, surveyed 104 older drivers in Florida about their perceptions of autonomous vehicle, or AV, technology. The older adults also experienced AV technology through driving simulation scenarios.
The researchers said they believe it is the first study to quantify older adults’ perceptions of autonomous vehicles using a perception survey, before and after real-world experiences.
Participants answered a 28-question survey and participated in a driving simulation scenario on a closed-loop course, built to broadly represent geographic features similar to the route of the autonomous shuttle. The shuttle — which has six seats and six standing positions to transport up to 12 passengers — used vision sensors, light detection and GPS tracking system to map its environment and choose the best motion behavior.
The shuttle does not have a steering wheel. It is operated manually by a safety operator using a joystick remote control and has a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour. The 10-minute shuttle route took place in a deserted bus depot.
The authors said the study provides a broader understanding of the factors affecting the acceptance and adoption of autonomous vehicle technology among older adults who may be medically at risk, disadvantaged, vulnerable or disabled.
“We surmise that older drivers need to be exposed to AVs if they are to accept and adopt this emerging technology — and both the autonomous shuttle and simulator programmed to run in autonomous mode can be used for this purpose,” they concluded.
The investigators said the findings may be useful for engineers, city planners and policymakers to enhance deployment of AV technologies. They also said it could benefit healthcare professionals seeking alternative mobility options for the “transportation disadvantaged.”
More information on the Southeastern Transportation Research, Innovation, Development Educational Center study can be found here. STRIDE is headquartered at the University of Florida Transportation Institute.
Senior living residents are being exposed to self-driving vehicle technology in the real world, too. Silicon Valley start-up Voyage launched its first self-driving taxi service in late 2017 at The Villages Golf and Country Club retirement community in San Jose, CA, with a second test coming in 2018 to The Villages in Florida. Paradise Valley Estates, a continuing care retirement community in Fairfield, CA, in 2019 helped Boston-based Optimus Ride test its self-driving vehicle technology, with the role of the Optimus Ride there expanding with the onset of COVID-19.